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2017 Big Ten football preview: Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12), under pressure, puts the ball in the air against Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. The host Wolverines won, 14-7. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Location: Madison, Wisconsin

2016 record: 11–3 (7–2)

Head coach: Paul Chryst

2017 record so far: 2-0

All-time record vs. OSU: 18-58

What has happened thus far in 2017

Wisconsin made quick work of Utah State and Florida Atlantic, outscoring both by a combined score of 90-24. Its offense rode the legs of two running backs, freshman phenom Jonathan Taylor and redshirt sophomore Bradrick Shaw. Taylor ran all over Florida Atlantic, racking up 223 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, the Badgers have been lights out against their opponents, limiting them to an average of only 276 yards per game and just 24 total points. Wisconsin travels to Provo, Utah, to take on BYU in its next test Saturday.

Impact player

While eyes might gravitate to 6-foot-6, 249-pound senior tight end Troy Fumagalli, the Badgers’ season hinges on the play of redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He’s been steady through the team’s first two games, throwing for 445 total yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Hornibrook grew into the starting role last season, and though his numbers from a season ago indicate he might not put up eye-popping stats, he should be able to, at least, remain a steady presence for the team under center.

Strengths

Wisconsin fields another all-around solid team in 2017. There’s plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but the Badgers’ offensive line has the potential to be the best unit on the team. If redshirt sophomore left guard Jon Dietzen can stay healthy, the line could provide Hornibrook with some of the best protection in the conference. With Taylor and Shaw also lining up in the backfield, Wisconsin boasts its latest grouping of talented running backs.

Weaknesses

You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone willing to pencil a different Big Ten West team ahead of Wisconsin. Why? The Badgers are extremely talented and have one of the easiest schedules in the country, with neither Ohio State nor Penn State on the docket. The problem with the Badgers last year, though, was their inability to close out games, losing by seven points to Michigan, to Ohio State in overtime and then to the Nittany Lions in the conference-title bout. Wisconsin must come out on top in those kind of matchups if it is to take the next step this season.

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